The Peace Festival in Augsburg on August 8 has been Germany’s only municipal public holiday since 1950. Also known as the “Augsburg High Peace Festival,” this annual festival is only celebrated in Augsburg, a city with Roman Catholic roots that once forbid its citizens the right to practice the Christian faith as Protestants. The bitter divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants has a long ignoble history, which makes the festival even more significant in our world where passionate religious beliefs still lead to wars not just between nations, but within families.
History of Peace Festival in Augsburg
Few subjects can turn an otherwise pleasant conversation into a heated argument like religion and politics. Most of us have been well-advised to avoid bringing up either topic at family gatherings, in the workplace, or just about any casual setting. Yet the people of “Augsburg, the City of Peace,” demonstrate every year that peace is absolutely attainable when we set aside our differences and instead focus on what we all have in common.
Nearly half of Augsburg’s population today is made up of migrants from all over the world, with a broad swath of diverse religious faiths and practices. Given the city’s early history of religious persecution, it is notable that today the entire city of Augsburg closes shop for the day to participate in the city’s mandate to continue their historic peaceful coexistence based on the pursuit of religious freedom. In a modern world where discussions about religious freedom and tolerance are more often avoided and even excluded from public debate, the people of Augsburg put the right of every individual to practice their faith freely front and center during Augsburg’s annual celebration of peace.
Augsburg, Germany was essentially ground zero for the growing political conflict left in the wake of the Christian Reformation movement in Europe in the early sixteenth century. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V outlawed the burgeoning Lutheran church in 1521, but the Lutheran movement continued to flourish until 1529 when Charles declared that Catholicism was to be restored everywhere in Germany. German princes and estate owners loudly and publicly denounced the Emperor’s decree. This is where the term Protestant was coined, referring to the princes and estate owners who protested the Emperor’s decree. In 1531 Charles ordered all Lutherans to reunite with the Catholic church, causing Protestants to grow more defiant.
By 1552, Charles acquiesced and accepted the existence of the rapidly expanding evangelical church, promising to settle the controversy. But it was not until 1555 that peace was established between the Lutherans and Catholics with The Augsburg Declaration of Religious Freedom in the city of Augsburg. The declaration guaranteed Protestants the right to practice their faith in the city of Augsburg. But the peace accord only included Lutheran Protestants, although it did permit other Protestant citizens like the Calvinists to relocate their families to other regions where their faith was more compatible with local doctrine.
In 1629, seventy-four years after winning the legal right to practice their faith, Lutheran Protestants were again banned from practicing their faith in Augsburg, until the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, reinstating the original 1555 Augsburg Declaration of Religious Freedom.
Protestants organized the first “Augsburg High Peace Festival” in 1650, two years after the Peace of Westphalia, as their commitment to carry forward the peaceful coexistence of “Augsburg, the City of Peace,” for future generations. Today the festival is an interreligious and intercultural celebration, preceded by a week of cultural events leading up to the holiday on August 8.